In a case that almost didn’t get brought to court, Israel’s national airline, El Al, has been convicted of gender discrimination when a woman was asked to take a different seat because an ultra-orthodox man didn’t want to sit next to her.
That once-common practice, which caters to a whim of someone from a sect with otherworldly-strict beliefs, was brought down by a suit filed by a holocaust survivor who originally intended to ignore the affront. But a couple of weeks after her flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was marred by the incident, Renee Rabinowitz, 81, attended an event where a representative of the Israel Religious Action Center discussed IRAC’s campaign against airlines’ practice of accommodating what Rabinowitz described as “a Haredi-looking [ultra orthodox] gentleman”. Such individuals are members of a group representing the social and cultural interests of fervently religious Jews. Created in response to escalating assimilation and secularization within worldwide Jewry, they aim to preserve and maintain Torah-bound Judaism, both on the individual and collective level.
But in refusing to sit next to a woman on, for example, an airplane, “a passenger asking to move their seat because of their gender will qualify as discrimination, and as such will be prohibited,” the Israeli court said in an English-language statement.
More specifically, The Jerusalem Post reported, “Requesting a seat change on an airplane before or after takeoff, based on a passenger’s gender, constitutes a breach of the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, [Services and Entry into Public Places Law],” ruled Judge Dana Cohen-Lekach of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
The JP website added, “The phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox men insisting on not sitting next to unrelated women on air flights has developed into a familiar pattern in recent years, with such demands frequently causing problems and delays for airlines due to the refusal of such men to take their seats before takeoff.”
El Al has said it will take the ruling seriously, and the airline is expected to modify its rules and retrain flight attendants within the 45-day period specified by the court.
The Guardian quoted the airline as saying, “The sides reached an agreement that the airline’s procedures would be clarified to its employees. The court validated this agreement and the company will respect the verdict.”